5 Jan 2023

New heavy rain warnings for Coromandel, BOP, top of South Island, Westland

9:35 pm on 5 January 2023

(file picture) Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

MetService issued new weather warnings late this evening, as rain continues to block roads, cause slips and disrupt the plans of holidaymakers.

At the same time, the forecaster has lifted wind warnings for Auckland and Great Barrier Island.

Heavy rain warnings are in place for the Coromandel, Bay of Plenty (west of Matata and north of Rotorua), Tasman (west of Motueka) and parts of Westland.

MetService said heavy rain could cause streams and rivers to rise rapidly, warning people to watch for surface flooding and slips.

In Coromandel, it believed a further 70mm to 100mm could fall on the already sodden peninsula.

Forecasters also expect heavy rain of up to 150mm to fall around the Bay of Plenty's Kaimai Range.

Exodus from hard-hit Coromandel

Coromandel residents are hoping the bout of severe weather lashing the peninsula, leading to an exodus of holidaymakers, is short-lived.

The region has been battered by heavy rain, closing parts of State Highway 25 with severe weather warnings in place until midday tomorrow.

The rain has stopped in holiday hotspot Whangamata, this evening although strong winds are jolting the town.

Thames-Coromandel Deputy Mayor Terry Walker said everyone is battening down the hatches.

"The whole town, there's a lot of [non-residents] in town, and they're doing exactly what we're doing - hunkering down and hoping this will pass.

"Quite a few campers though have decided to head for home, which is disappointing for them but hopefully things change in the next week or so and [they] return."

More than 50 properties in Hikutaia, south of Thames, are still without power due to the wild weather.

Waka Kotahi said SH25 reopened between Whitianga and Kaimarama, as flooding receded. The agency advised there could be isolated pockets of surface water.

The road remains shut north of Te Mata due to a fallen tree, with arborists working to clear the road.

It was also closed east of the Coromandel township due to a slip, with motorists advised to delay their travels.

Coromandel civil defence controller Garry Towler said people should avoid travelling overnight.

All Gulf Harbour ferries today and Friday have been cancelled. The Half Moon Bay service at 9.15am was turned around mid-journey.

Flooding, fallen trees and slips

Earlier today, crews were urgently trying to reopen SH25 on the Coromandel Peninsula, the road closed in four places.

Flooding, fallen trees and a slip blocked the highway in Hikuai, Whitianga, Te Mata and near Coromandel township. Power was also out to more than 500 properties around the peninsula.

RNZ's Sally Wenley was in one of many campers hunkering down at Waitete Bay, near Colville.

"Through the day and the afternoon the wind got really strong, and then the rain just became constant and torrential. Obviously, being in a caravan you can hear everything on the roof - just the noise was just phenomenal."

MetService recorded 200mm of rainfall in the Coromandel Ranges in just 36 hours. The heavy rain was expected to continue until at least Friday afternoon.

Ferries suspended

All ferry services to and from Rakino island in Auckland's Hauraki Gulf have been suspended for tomorrow due to the weather conditions.

The services are expected to resume on Saturday.

Several ferry services across Auckland were delayed or cancelled this morning, including in Half Moon Bay, Bayswater and Birkenhead.

Weather warnings

Weather warnings were earlier extended to more regions as heavy rainfall and gales swept over much of the country.

The heavy rain warning for Northland was over by 6am Thursday morning, with MetService on Wednesday night predicting an additional 60 to 80mm of rain south of the Bay of Islands on top of the 70-100mm already accumulated.

Coromandel Peninsula, Bay of Plenty west of Matata, Tasman northwest of Motueka, the Richmond and Bryant ranges including the Rai Valley, the Marlborough Sounds, and the ranges of Westland south of Otira also had heavy rain warnings in place.

MetService warned the Bay of Plenty warning may go beyond Friday as further bursts of heavy rain were possible, with 140 to 200mm of rain accumulation forecast.

As this morning, Tasman northwest of Motueka appeared to have one of the biggest rainfall accumulation predictions, with about 200 to 250mm.

Auckland, including Great Barrier Island, had a strong wind warning in place, with gales reaching 110km/h in exposed places.

Heavy rain may reach warning levels in the region, especially in the north and east, MetService said. Mt Taranaki, the Richmond and Bryant ranges including the Rai Valley, and the Marlborough Sounds also had a heavy rain watch in place.

Northland had a strong wind watch in force, along with Waikato, Coromandel and western Bay of Plenty to Taranaki and Taihape.

NIWA said the heaviest rainfall Thursday was likely in Coromandel and possibly in Auckland, Waikato and Tasman in the top of the South Island.

Periods of heavy rain will continue on Friday and Saturday, spreading eastward.

NIWA said this would be a long-duration weather event.

'Avoid travel at all costs', people in Coromandel warned

Wild weather earlier closed roads in Coromandel, cutting power and bringing down slips overnight.

Up to 180mm of rain had fallen by midday Thursday, more than 200 houses in Whangamatā and another 170 near Thames were without power in the morning, and the road connecting the west and east coasts was closed due to a large slip.

Waka Kotahi warned motorists to drive to the conditions and keep a safe distance between cars.

Police said they were monitoring main routes in the north as some holidaymakers returned from holidays early due to the weather.

Civil Defence controller Garry Towler earlier said SH25 south of Whitianga and at Coromandel township was blocked by flooding.

"There was a mass exodus and the police reported that our highways were very, very busy but they functioned well and I think everybody that has wanted to leave has gone.

"Things are looking pretty messy today and our advisory is for everyone just to stay put, avoid travel at all costs, and stay away from the beaches, streams and rivers, and just be safe today."

The road connecting the east and west coasts may be shut for several days, he said.

In the past 24 hours, the region had seen 200mm of rainfall and another 200mm was expected over the next 24 hours.

Federated Farmers provincial president Rob Craw said farmers seemed to be faring well, but the real test could come Friday when more rain was due to land.

That would put pressure on already sodden ground, creating slips, Craw said.

Speaking to Summer Times, he said most of the power outage seemed to be restored but residents could expect further issues due to the wind.

"We're getting reports this is going to come and go for another week, so there will be some respite after Sunday but then we've just got to look at what's happening next week."

While camping areas around Whitianga had been mostly emptied, some freedom campers chose to go to safer areas, with Cooks Beach still about 60 percent full, he said.

"We normally get 24, 48-hour events but to have one lasting four to five days is really unusual for us.

"I've been doing this for 10 years and it's right up there with some of the bad ones we've had."

Waitete Bay, Coromandel.

Waitete Bay, Coromandel. Photo: RNZ / Sally Wenley

"There is a whole cluster of campervans and caravans and small baches," said RNZ's Sally Wenley.

"The ground started getting a bit soggy yesterday when it was pouring down, and the wind was just so strong, all the trees and the campervans were actually rocking. And there was a little bit of nervousness, but everybody's okay.

"[Today] the ground has turned from soggy to like - I think we should play water polo or something. And there's a constant stream of water running down the driveway."

Wenley said the blue skies disappeared Wednesday morning, and on Thursday morning there were "sheets of rain coming sideways and every single guttering on the caravans is just flooding".

Thames Business Association (TBA) said the road closures and slips could be an issue for local businesses.

The Coroglen Tavern announced on Thursday morning it would be postponing the Rockin Horse festival, which was set to begin that day, as its campsite had been flooded as well.

"The Coroglen Tavern has never seen activity like this. Our top priority is the health and safety of you as well as our artists and team," it said on its Facebook page.

It said it would be working on new dates and would announce more on ticket refunds soon.

TBA chief executive Sue Lewis-O'Halloran said over this summer, the town was as busy as ever.

"The issue will be if they cannot get supplies if roads are closed, if trees are down.

"Those of us who live up the coast will be keeping an eye on recommendations for road closures because it's not uncommon for there to be slips and trees down and that sort of thing."

The wild weather has also wiped out the holiday traffic that many businesses rely on in Northland, where hundreds fled local camp sites and upcoming bookings were cancelled.

Northland Chamber of Commerce president Tim Robinson said while businesses have got creative with managing low bookings during the pandemic, they had been hanging out for a summer without any Covid-19 restrictions.

While the current weather would hurt the finances of some businesses, he was optimistic open borders would boost international visitor numbers this year.

Thames-Coromandel District Council urged holidaymakers to head home or hunker down ahead of the intense rain and wind.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs